Kyle Wiltjer didn’t hear his name called on the night of the 2016 NBA Draft, but his hard work and perseverance since then has paid off, as the Gonzaga grad was named to the Houston Rockets opening day roster.
Wiltjer survived the final cuts for the Rockets as they cut it down to a 15 man squad in time for the start of the NBA. From the get go, Wiltjer was always going to need to impress NBA squads with his ability to shoot the ball, and he did just that when given the opportunity.
In six preseason games, Wiltjer was eighth on the team with 8.3 points per game, despite just playing 14.8 minutes per game. He was selective with his shots, and demonstrated his ability to play that stretch four position, hitting 41.7 percent from beyond the arc.
The question was always going to be if Wiltjer could play the defense necessary to make the cut. Luckily, the Rockets are coached by Mike D’Antoni, a NBA coach well-known for his appreciation of the offensive game. Says D’Antoni to the Houston Chronicle:
"He has two NBA skills," D'Antoni said. "One is shooting which is off the charts and is not just an NBA skill, but a top-level NBA skill. He can be a great shooter. The second thing is he really knows how to play offensively. He has a great feel for the game.”
D’Antoni also went on to give praise for Wiltjer’s defensive awareness, and suggested that over time he should be able to craft himself into a suitable NBA player.
"On defense, he's always in the right position. He lacks a little strength. He lacks a little mobility. They'll work on and he'll get better. He'll get stronger physically. But if you watch his whole game and watch film on him, he's a very high-level player. I think he's an NBA player."
The fact that Wiltjer is in the right position helps his cause, because strength and conditioning drills will only increase lateral movement so much. However, Wiltjer has the luxury of now working on those skills with an NBA level coaching staff. As long as he keeps draining his shots, there should be room for him on a NBA roster.